The Gospel According to Wonder Woman, Part 2: Thoughts on faith and works.

James 2: 14-26

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

The term “gospel” is misinterpreted a lot.

The word comes from old middle English and literally means “good news”.

It is has become associated with the life and teachings of Jesus in the four books of the New Testament we call the Gospels.

The Good News of Jesus Christ.

But the word Gospel has also come to mean an almost divine kind of truth, regardless of the source.

Here are some examples:

The Gospel according to Peanuts.

The Gospel according to Harry Potter.

The Gospel according to the Simpsons.

The Gospel according to Star Wars.

You get the picture.

Typically, these are an attempt to interpret the subject matter as having some of that divine truth, and perhaps use it as an illustration of the teachings of Jesus.

Often it is a stretch.

But not always.

And that is the nature of my sermon title, too.

As I said last week, I heard at least two things in the movie Wonder Woman that made me think of teachings of Jesus.

But they also made me think of Jesus teachings as interpreted by his brother James who wrote this morning’s scripture reading.

For those who were not here last week, and who have not seen the movie, a bit of Wonder Woman background.

Diana, ‘Wonder Woman’, comes from an isolated island, inhabited only by women, that has had no contact with the rest of the world, the world of men as they call it, for millennia.

Diana has super powers.

Which is a good thing.

Because she leaves her island to come to the “world of men” to intervene in WWI.

The person she follows to the war is Steve Trevor, an American who works for British intelligence.

He tries to explain why he joined the Brits in fighting the war.

Trevor refers to is his initial observation of the war from the safety of the initially neutral United States.

He describes it this way.

My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.

There it is.

A teaching of Jesus.

A lesson from James.

If you see something wrong in the world, you have a choice.

Do nothing.

Do something.

Jesus … and James … encourage us to choose something.

James puts it this way:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

If we see something wrong in the world, we have a choice.

Do nothing.

Do something.

So what does that look like?

This past week in Panama City, Florida, two boys, 8 and 11, were swimming at a local beach when they were swept away from shore by a rip tide.

Seven friends and family members went in after them and got swept away as well.

Someone on the beach saw what was happening and called the police.

The police could do nothing but wait for a boat to arrive.

But that was not going to be soon enough it appeared.

Then a young woman gathered the crowd watching on the beach and started a human chain that ended up 80 people long, each holding the hand of the one behind and the one in front.

Out into the current they went and in the end brought all nine people back to shore safely.

Not many knew each other before the rescue and none knew the trapped family.

After it was all over, they cheered, then all went back to their beach blankets as if nothing had happened.

The people that formed the chain initially just watched.

They started out by doing nothing but wait for the boat.

But then they chose to do something.

Waiting for the boat was the easy thing.

They believed someone should help.

Like James’ person who tells the naked and hungry person to ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’.

And hope someone else takes care of it.

But what these folks did was the hard thing.

They, too, believed that someone should help.

And decided that someone was them.

They did something.

And they saved 9 lives.

James says that if you see someone in need and do nothing, even if you have faith that someone will do something, your faith is dead.

Like a body without a soul.

Faith without works is dead.

If you do something to help, you bring your faith to life.

James teaches that when it comes to faith, it is a two part thing.

There is belief.

Belief in the teachings of Jesus.

And there is discipleship.

Doing the teachings of Jesus.

Like body and soul.

Both are required for faith that is alive!

But wait!

Didn’t Paul say that we are saved by faith alone?

How can Paul’s “faith alone” be reconciled with James’ call to action?

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:

…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3

Paul says that faith must be expressed through love.

We are to do this and we are to do it actively.

And why wouldn’t Paul and James agree on this?

It comes from Jesus.

Jesus says:

Feed the hungry.

Give water to the thirsty.

Clothe the naked.

Shelter the homeless.

Care for the sick.

Welcome the strangers.

Jesus wants more than affirmation.

He wants more that words.

He wants action.

This is what James is talking about.

And that is what Paul is talking about, too.

Faith is a verb.

It is something we do.

So what does it mean to us that we “do something”?

One time I heard it put this way:

If it were a crime to be a Christian, and you were arrested and charged with that crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

I think that is what James is talking about.

Does our relationship with God, our faith, cause us to do the things Jesus calls us to do?

When we see a need, do we seek to do something about it?

We have a choice.

Do nothing.

Or do something.

Let’s take a look at JMPC.

What do we do here?

We look out at the world around us and see things that are wrong in the world.

We see people in need.

And we choose to do something.

We are part of a human chain that takes what we have to offer and passes it down the chain until it reaches the ones who need help.

Maybe it’s with physical work.

Or maybe it’s with financial support.

But we do something!

We help clothe the naked at World Vision.

We help feed the hungry through the food pantry at SHIM and produce to people.

We help provide shelter to the homeless through Family Promise and through mission trips to places where people have lost their homes in natural disasters.

We go to Chiapas Mexico to assist churches with construction projects.

We go to the NWMC to learn about mission.

We buy farm animals for communities through the Heifer Project.

We support Roldy, a Haitian child through Friends of Haiti.

We minster to the youth at Duquesne church with Kids Club and The Open Table and Bod of Love.

We comfort the grieving and counsel the troubled with food and fellowship and human presence.

We help fund over a dozen ministries and charities over the course of the year with the Christmas Affair.

There are many opportunities that each one of us can identify as an act of discipleship that demonstrates a living faith.

That is why we are encouraging the people of JMPC to do just one thing!

Do one thing that enlivens your faith.

Will what we do change the whole world?

No.

But it will help.

Like the person in the middle of the human chain who saw something wrong and decided that something needed to be done, we can make a difference.

It is what Jesus asks of us.

Jesus tells us to do these things so that God’s works might be revealed in those we help.

That we must work the works of him who sends us.

Time to get to work.



Meals for Bond of Love

Bond of Love is a partnership between John McMillan Presbyterian Church and the First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne Family Support Centers.  Prenatal and Postnatal support meetings are provide to new mothers and mothers-to-be every other Thursday from 4:30-6:30 starting Sept 28.    To encourage participation (and, of course, support a healthy pregnancy!)  John McMillan has been asked to provide a full meal to the people who attend the meetings on the 4th Thursday of the month.  We are looking for healthy meals with veggies and fruit for approximately 4 people every month?  Will you help create a healthy beginning for a new member of God’s family?  Call the church office for details.



The Gospel According to Wonder Woman, Part 1: Thoughts on what we believe, not what we deserve..

James 2: 1-13

2My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

When I was a boy, I was not much of a reader.

My parents were, of course, unhappy with this.

Particularly my Dad who went to college to be an English teacher.

So when I started to bring home comics books from the dime store, they grudgingly accepted my new interest.

At least I was reading something.

The only comics books I bought were about superheroes.

You might not be surprised to hear that my favorite is Captain America.

Mainly because his weapon of choice is a shield, which is cool.

What I did not understand then, but do now, is that these stories had much more philosophical depth that a simple good v. evil action adventure.

Regardless of their fantastical nature, the stories were about people who were flawed and lived in a flawed world often without a satisfying conclusion.

There were often profound commentaries on the state of humanity, human conduct and ethics, if not morality, weaved into the story.

And if you paid attention, you might see comments that would be spot on consistent with the Gospel itself.

OK, maybe I am just projecting … or overstating.

Nevertheless, I found that to be the case last week when I saw “Wonder Woman”.

This super hero fantasy was both enjoyable and thought provoking.

Basically, Diana, ‘Wonder Woman’, comes from an isolated and morally sheltered existence on an island that has had no contact with the rest of the world for millennia.

She has been taught that love is more powerful than evil.

And she believes it.

She comes to intervene in WWI to stop the evil Aries, who she believes is the cause of the war.

If she destroys him, the war ends.

But when she lives among the “rest of us” for a time, Diana realizes that Aries is not the only cause of all this war and death.

Humanity itself seems to be the primary cause.

Humanity is flawed.

There is darkness in everyone.

Diana recalls the final words from her mother as she departs to save the world:

They do not deserve you.

And she now wonders whether humanity deserves her help.

Then she hears the words of her friend Steve Trevor.

He says that it is not what the world deserves, but what she believes.

His point is that humanity might not deserve her help, but if she believes love is stronger than evil, she must do what she can to … well … do as much as she can, to help what she can.

And so she does … until next time.

When I watched this movie, I thought of James.

What does this story have to do with James?

What we call the Epistle of James is a letter setting out a kind of ethical, moral and faithful guide to living the Jesus way.

And it is forceful and unapologetic.

James is writing to the converted Jewish community in and around Jerusalem in the middle or late part of the first century.

He writes because it seems that the initial fervor of the newly converted was falling off for a variety of reasons.

One of the specific concerns James addressed in today’s scripture was the problem of favoritism.

In the old ways, social and religious significance was given to people based on their circumstances of life.

The rich and powerful were favored.

The poor and unfortunate were cast aside.

In other words, people got what they deserved.

James puts this into a particular context when he talks about folks coming to the various assemblies of Jesus followers.

The rich get best seats and the poor stand in the back or sit on the floor.

The thinking is that each is getting what they deserve.

James describes this conduct as making distinctions among people.

Becoming judges with evil thoughts.

What are those evil thoughts?

Thoughts on getting ahead by flattering the rich and powerful despite the fact the rich and powerful oppress others and drag them into court and blaspheme.

The poor are brushed aside because they cannot provide any benefit to the assembly.

This is so despite the fact God has made them rich in faith and made them heirs to the kingdom because they love God.

What James is not saying is that the poor deserve the better seats.

He is saying that the distinctions we make between people is based on a flawed calculation.

He says there is a better way.

The way God calls us to live.

This is the way James describes it.

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? …

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9

James says that if we believe in what Jesus stands for, we must love our neighbor as ourselves.

That we must be merciful, not judgmental.

We must show no favoritism based on what we deem as deservedness.

That is what we believe.

Why?

Because this is how God treats us.

God is merciful, not judgmental.

That is what Jesus came to tell us.

That is what James is telling us.

James says that if we believe in Jesus, we are not to discriminate between people based on what they do or don’t deserve.

James says that we demonstrate unbelief when we do.

If we only treat well those who we deem are deserving, well … listen to James:

But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. …

For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy …

He equates an attitude of favoritism with a rejection of the Gospel!

If we don’t live in a way that shows no favoritism, it means we do not believe in Jesus!

But that is really hard.

We are a biased species.

We are always comparing and contrasting and rating.

How do we act differently?

How do we love all our neighbors?

It is an act of the will, not emotion.

It is love as an action.

It is what we do, not what we think.

It does not mean that we must like every person.

It does not mean that we must like a person’s conduct or condone a person’s habits and lifestyle.

It does not mean that we must want that person to be a friend.

But it does mean that we will treat that person the way God has treated us.

With mercy.

With love.

It has nothing to do with what we deserve, thankfully.

God gave us something we did not deserve.

God gave us a place in the kingdom.

Not because of who we are but despite it.

We are a rebellious and hardheaded people who frequently have little time for God.

Yet God sent Jesus to show us that mercy triumphs over judgment.

We must do the same.

Not because anyone deserves our mercy, but because we believe we are called by God to give it.

It is not what is deserved, it is what we believe.

That’s the Jesus way.

We do not get to decide who deserves our mercy, who deserves our acts of love.

We are simply do it, because we believe it.

We believe it because Jesus told us that we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, provide shelter to the homeless, care for the sick, welcome the strangers and visit the prisoners.

To provide such people mercy, not judgment.

Not because they deserve it, but because Jesus commands it, and we believe it.

And we need to teach and preach that.

One of the things we did this year at VBS was to take the oldest class on several mission projects.

Monday, we went to SHIM where we sorted food and prepared a kitchen so that a class on cooking could be offered to those who did not know how to cook the food we sorted.

We taught the kids to feed the hungry.

On Tuesday, we went to the Salvation Army where we sorted clothing that had been donated.

We clothed the naked.

Wednesday, we went to First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne where we helped organize the mission furniture store so that formerly homeless people could furnish their homes.

We provided shelter to the homeless.

Thursday, we went to Simmons Park and picked garbage out of the creek.

We cared for God’s creation.

Friday, we went to Sojourner House where and took kitchen ware and baby supplies to women suffering from and trapped by addiction who were able to go through rehab while living with their children.

We cared for the sick and visited the prisoners.

What we tried to do was teach these kids how to love these neighbors, whether they deserved it or not, and despite their flaws and failures.

That is how God treats us, and it is how we are all called to live.

It’s not what is deserved, it’s what we believe.

Which is what Jesus did.

He went to the cross, not because we deserved it, but because he believed God loved us.

So, the question we need to ask ourselves is this:

Do we only provide for the needs of those who we believe deserve it?

And if not, well … so be it?

If Jesus and the fictional Diana thought that way, we would all be doomed.

What do we believe?

Do we believe Jesus?

Are we living the way he wants us to live?

Do we live as we believe, like Jesus and the fictional Diana, and do what we can to do what we can for as many as we can, regardless of what anyone deserves?

That would be the way of the kingdom.

That would be the Jesus way.



Prayer for Peace Service Sept 17, 7:00 PM

Service of Prayer for Peace: The world seems to be descending into chaotic conflict and intolerance that too often ends in violence. We at John McMillan Presbyterian Church are committed to standing against hate and proclaiming Jesus’ call to peace and reconciliation. Any effort to stand for peace must begin with confession and prayer. On September 17 at 7pm, John McMillan Presbyterian Church will hold a worship service focused on peace in our community, our country and our world. We will unite our voices in liturgy and pray for peace. We will ask God to intervene and to tell us how our community as a whole and we as individuals can make a difference in our broken world. The service, like all services at JMPC is open to the public and we encourage people of all faiths to come and join together as we bring light into a dark time.

Peace Service
September 17th , Sunday
7:00 pm